Tensions are only worsening between China and Japan as the two nations vie for control of what the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands, the Japanese the Senkaku. Protests have flared across many cities in China as (mostly young) Chinese smash Japanese-made cars, trash Japanese stores and restaurants, and harass those who appear to be Japanese.
Meanwhile, there are about 100,000 Chinese studying abroad in Japan. How have they been treated, and what dangers are they facing? According to a recent viral essay by a Chinese netizen who says he is studying abroad in Japan, the answers are: Fine, and none. With over 18,000 comments and over 75,000 retweets on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, this story has clearly resonated with more than just one observer. Tea Leaf Nation translates, and the original post follows at the end of the article.
An Urgent Letter Home from a Study Abroad Student in Japan
At 11 o’clock at night, back in my room after meeting up with another Chinese exchange student, I logged on to [Chinese chat service] QQ, and there was this message from my older brother: “Call Dad back, it’s urgent! Look at the news, and call back as soon as you can, whatever the time is!” My heart jumped, because I thought something had happened at home. I hurried up and made the call, and as soon as the phone was answered and my father heard my voice, the first thing he said was: “How are you doing over there? The situation in China right now is anxious because of the Diaoyu Islands…”
On the phone, I kept reassuring my father, and trying to get my family to calm down, I said I haven’t come across any inconveniences in Japan. Only after I had talked at length did my father feel at ease enough to hang up the phone.
I thought of the 100,000 Chinese students abroad in Japan right then. In light of the current anxious situation, every parent would definitely be concerned, worried that his or her own child in Japan would encounter “inconveniences.” And what’s more, they would have trouble sleeping at night if their children happened to suffer a beating, wondering… Will we make our child come home this time?
It’s completely normal for parents back home to have this kind of concern. Not only is every television station, big and small, repeatedly broadcasting about the Diaoyu Islands, but everywhere “anti- Japanese travel” demonstrations are happening, with “smashing cars” and violent beatings of supposed “Japanese.” The whole country is enveloped in a state of extreme restlessness and unease, amidst an atmosphere prone to violence. Parents worrying about their child in Japan feel a kind of terror in this type of environment.
Then what is, really, the condition of Japan? I will speak from my own sense of the matter.
I am in Okinawa, and here’s my analysis of the China-Japan Diaoyu Islands conflict: Japan has always grouped the Diaoyu Islands under its management of Okinawa. In other words, when it comes to the Diaoyu Islands, comparing Japan’s territory to Okinawa, regardless of the intervening distance or the land it technically belongs to, Okinawa is really the place with more reasons to care. It is also important to note that if a China-Japan military clash emerged over the Diaoyu Islands, Okinawa would be the front line, the place where the conflict would probably be fought out, and it would directly impact and threaten the lives of the Okinawans. The Okinawans are the ones who should be paying attention, but in actuality they’re not!
Yesterday morning, I had a temporary job handing out fliers on the street. The content advertised a Chinese language study course run by a Chinese person, specifically aimed at those Japanese who want to learn Chinese. I handed out the fliers from eight o’clock to 10 o’clock in the morning in Kokusai Street (国际通), the most bustling section of road in Okinawa, and a place that people headed to work must traverse.
There were seven of us, and we handed out a conservative estimate of over 1,500 fliers, and in that time we didn’t come across a single Japanese who gave us any “inconvenience.” In fact, there was an old woman who specifically came back to pick up an extra flier, saying she wanted to bring a copy to someone else, too. If right at that moment, back in my country, a Japanese were handing out Japanese study fliers on Wangfujing [a major shopping street in Beijing], would the result be like this?
I went to the car dealer very early this morning to learn to ride a motorcycle, and out of over a hundred people, I think I was the only foreigner. Of course, to the teacher showing me how to practice, it was clear I was from China. Before I went, I was nervous, worried that the Japanese might give me a hard time and not let me pass the test smoothly. I actually thought about it a lot, and they really didn’t treat me like those “compatriots” in China who treat people [differently] based on what country they are from. There was nothing special about how they acted toward me. There were a few times when obstacles came up because of the language exchange, but they personally gave demonstrations, and in the end I smoothly passed the test.
During this time, something happened. I noticed something in particular: 12 o’clock to one o’clock in the afternoon was rest time, so I sat resting in the hallway at the car dealer, and the TV happened to be broadcasting the Diaoyu Islands conflict, and in detail reported the number of our Chinese “fishery boats,” the navigation paths, etc. Simultaneously, they were broadcasting pictures from our country’s anti-Japanese travel demonstrations. This was important news related to a territory dispute, but I realized not even a few of the Japanese around me were watching this news. Even those Japanese who I was watching the news with didn’t express any ideas or opinions about it from start to finish. I couldn’t fathom it. If this piece of news were playing in a Chinese restaurant, a group of people would long ago have started commenting one after another and haranguing. But here, nothing!
Okinawans, do you mean to say you don’t care about politics, don’t care about the present situation, don’t care about something happening right next to you?
Of course that’s not the case. At my university, you can often see an enormous bulletin board, and it’s covered with organizations rallying students to participate in “anti-American military base” protests. Data shows that currently, of the 50,000 American soldiers stationed in Japan, half are stationed in Okinawa. This year, as of September 9, a seaside park in Ginowan (宜野湾), Okinawa prefecture held a large-scale gathering rarely seen in recent years with 100,000 participants. The activity’s aim: Opposing American military deployment of the MV-22 Osprey at the Futenma (普天间) airport in this city. The demonstrating masses demanded cancellation of Osprey deployment and even the shut down of Futenma airport.
What everyone knows, however, is that the American military’s deployment of the MV-22 Osprey is obviously related to the sustained anxiety surrounding the China-Japan situation in recent days. There’s no way the Okinawans don’t know this, so why do they oppose it? And furthermore, they want to shut down the airports. In the course of this, if by chance there are hostilities, it won’t help them at all. Have you ever seen a country’s people in large-scale gatherings actually demanding military airports to be shut down while they face the flames of war, the smoke of gunpowder? And yet, this is exactly what Okinawans are doing! There is only one reason: They are worried this kind of airplane threatens their safety.
What do we make of the hundred thousand Okinawans confronting American military bases in large-scale demonstrations?
At our university, I have already come across quite a few Japanese students who have been to China. Once they know I’m from China, they all “show off“ and use Chinese to give a self-introduction, and then in stilted tones say China’s food is delicious, and so spicy! They do this in a very friendly way. Last Wednesday night, I was chatting with a Japanese student visiting from Tokyo, and in March he had gone to Shanghai University to study Chinese for a month. At the dining table, we chatted straight from nine at night to one in the morning, and I asked: “How did your impressions differ before you went to China and after you left?” He said: “There were major differences. After I went, I realized China was fun, that I really liked China, that I want to go back to travel.” That is exactly what he said to me.
Saying this, I just want to remind my comrades: Beating up ordinary Japanese back in China just closes the last door to exchange among our people.